Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 17, 2014

What I’m Reading: Three Contemporary Novels

Some favorite novels I read this fall would make good gifts or winter reading, and are popular enough to be found in most bookstores. I always like Sue Miller, and The Arsonist may be her best yet. The element of serial arson added intrigue without taking over the story of a middle aged woman in crisis, having left her work in Africa after about fifteen years, and her mother, who’s coping with changes due to her husband’s illness. We get love and achiness both in their relationship and the men they love.


Still Life with Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen begins as a sixty year old woman leaves New York City to live more simply upstate, not for philosophical reasons, but because of money, which plays a big part in her calculating and anxious mind. This becomes lightened by a developing relationship with a younger man, a roofer, who’s always lived in this small town. The parts I liked most dealt with her choices as a photographer, and the ups and downs of fame that don’t much influence her art, but affect her income and choices of how she’ll live. Her artistic process is beautifully described. Of course Anna Quindlen is also well known for nonfiction. I also liked Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, now out in paperback.


I just finished Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, which pulled me a long with a mystery involving a missing mother, with clues drawn from the maternal habits of elephants. Told in several points of view, I sometimes found the twelve-year-old narrator a bit unbelievably precious, but I loved her spunk all the same. To my surprise, I came to be very fond of the psychic. The elephant researcher sometimes brought me to tears, with her choice to endure scoffing by scientist colleagues to focus on grief, and her immense tenderness for the animals she studied. The elephants, based on real ones in sanctuaries, became complicated characters along with the humans, and there’s a magnificent moment of heroism near the end.



  1. Oh, thanks for sharing these, Jeannine. It’s been so long since I’ve read any adult fiction, but winter break approaches…and I will finally have time to read beyond my YA diet.

    • YA is great, but it was welcoming to sink into a chair with some characters closer to my age! I think you’d like Still Life with Bread Crumbs, perfect vacation reading. I goes fast, but leaves you with little important things to think about, too, as the main character contemplates city versus country, deals with her aging parents, considers the place of art in life … and eats scones.

  2. Thank you for this, Jeannine – so timely and generous. I love Sue Miller. I’ll never forget reading The Good Mother – in rapt attention at a courtroom scene – while waiting in the Middlesex Family Court in Cambridge to see if I’d be called to a jury.

    • I love those books that you can look at the spine and remember where you read them. Of course that was something, to read about the law on a courthouse bench!

  3. I, too, recently read STILL LIFE and really enjoyed it. And am almost finished with LOTS OF CANDLES! YAY! 🙂 Merry Christmas! ❤

    • Glad to know you liked these, too. I know you will have a fabulous holiday. Enjoy every second!

  4. I loved Still Life, too! I just finished The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. A big, sink-downable book perfect for this winter.

    • Perfect. I could see you joining her in those woods with camera. And thank you for the recommendation — the title is great! (and the winter here is long)

  5. Thanks for the recommendations, Jeannine. The Anna Quindlen book has my name on it!

    • Great! I think you may especially like looking at things with an artist’s eye, as I did. Happy holidays, Laura!

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